SAN ANTONIO. It's the baker's dozen for the Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo, which for the 13th time announced its winners including all-around grand champion Steven Brain of Rush Truck Center-Dallas. From an event first held in Nashville, TN with just two rows of bleachers for the awards ceremony audience, it has since grown in attendance about 20 times over.
It's become almost a pilgrimage every December for Rush's top technicians to its corporate headquarters city of San Antonio, which delivers its fairer weather and standout River Walk holiday and dining/ shopping experience for contestants and their significant others who come. But the Rush techs especially had to earn it this year, and the event is expanding to include other employees.
"This year we had record-breaking participation," noted Jody Pollard, senior vice president of dealership operations at Rush Enterprises. "We had 1,800 people enter to compete." Rush Truck Centers employs just short of 2,500 service and body technicians at more than 110 locations across the country.
Of those who tried out, 232 finalists made it here for their chance at $285,000 in prizes and cash. Some were returning winners or past competitors, but the Rodeo this year featured around two dozen first-timers. And with record participation, some top-level techs who've won here in the past—including a grand champion from last year—didn't make it back, often by razor-thin test margins.
"The experience of the Tech Skills Rodeo isn't a given—it is completely competitive every single year," Pollard noted.
"I know some of these guys. They're past winners," said Rush Enterprises President, CEO, and Chairman W.M. "Rusty" Rush at the awards ceremony. "The good part is I went around the room, and I saw a lot of new faces tonight."
This was not only the most competitive of these events to date, it was especially emotional because of the passing of W. Marvin Rush, Rusty's father and the founder of Rush Enterprises, earlier this year in May. A tribute to the elder Rush played before the winners were announced.
Though he's been a division winner before, this is the first Rodeo all-around grand championship for Rush's Steven Brain, a tech with the company now nearly a decade who said the work "comes very natural" to him and is "a God-given gift." It was also his earthly father who helped steer Brain down this road: "I can remember sitting under the car when I was a child helping my dad work on the car," he said.
Testing on a Hino truck, Brain noted it came down to the wire—he found the truck's last bug as the final 30 seconds of his 45-minute heat ticked down. He said he'd like to get into mentoring other technicians, something he encouraged Rush Truck Centers to focus on more.
This year's winners (in order of slideshow appearance) were:
Ford: Thomas Ell, Rush Truck Center-Orlando, FL
Hino: Eric Hauser, Rush Truck Center-Fontana, CA
Isuzu: Matthew Turpin, Rush Truck Center-Smyrna, GA
International: Quintin Likely, Rush Truck Center-Columbus, GA
Paccar: Rick Welch, Rush Truck Center-Lubbock, TX
Ford: Eric Juengling, Rush Truck Center-Cincinnati
Hino: Brad Munchrath, Rush Truck Center-Dallas
Isuzu: Donald McHenry, Rush Truck Center-Dallas
International Medium Duty: Thomas Ritter, Rush Truck Center-Indianapolis
International Heavy Duty: Matt Garr, Rush Truck Center-Huntley, IL
Peterbilt Medium Duty: Brad Jones, Rush Crane Systems
Peterbilt Heavy Duty: Kyle Smith, Rush Truck Center-Fort Worth, TX
Aftermarket Sales: Gary Gates, Rush Truck Center-Houston
Parts: Eric Hauser, Rush Truck Center-Fontana, CA
Medium Duty: Johnny Mendez, Rush Truck Center-San Antonio
Heavy Duty: Nicholas Misch, Rush Truck Center-San Antonio
Aftermarket Sales: Michael Box, Rush Truck Center-Lubbock, TX
Parts: Quintin Likely, Rush Truck Center-Columbus, GA
Medium Duty: Steven Brain, Rush Truck Center-Dallas
Heavy Duty: Jason Swann, Rush Truck Center-Dallas
ALL-AROUND TECH SKILLS RODEO GRAND CHAMPION
Steven Brain, Rush Truck Center-Dallas